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Experts: Scouts unprepared for Jamboree

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This was in the news, I would like to hear feedback from this group on the points it makes. Especially when one Scouter describes "rigorous Training" required before joining.



BOWLING GREEN, Va. (AP) - Their motto is: "Be prepared." But as the disaster-riddled National Boy Scout Jamboree carries on following five deaths and hundreds of heat-related illnesses, event planners from across the country are wondering just how prepared the Scouts were.


"That's the part that breaks my heart - there are things you can avoid and things you can't," said Phyllis Cambria, an event planner from Boca Raton, Fla., who has written several books on the subject. "This one sounds like it was an avoidable one."


Scout officials say they are not ready to place blame and are still investigating the incidents. But several outside specialists said allowing tents to be placed near power lines and failing to keep Scouts cool in searing heat were enormous oversights.


On Monday, four Scout leaders were electrocuted in front of several Scouts after they lost control of the towering metal pole at the center of a large, white dining tent, sending it toppling into nearby power lines. The day before, a volunteer was taken to a hospital where he died of an apparent heart attack.


On Wednesday, 40,000 Scouting enthusiasts waited hours in the stifling heat for an appearance by President Bush, who ended up postponing his visit due to the threat of severe thunderstorms. Sun-sick Scouts began collapsing and more than 300 people were treated for heat-related illnesses.


"I don't think it's wise to make judgment on things that could've, should've, would've been done," Jamboree spokeswoman Renee Fairrer said.


The troops involved in the electrocution accident hired a contractor to set up the dining tent. The contractors asked the Scout leaders for assistance in erecting the structure - directly below a set of power lines.


Sam Waltz Jr., a crisis management specialist from Wilmington, Del., said organizers should have laid out a grid map in advance that clearly identified danger areas where power lines hang and planned for tents to be set up far away.


"If someone had gridded it out, then no one would have been putting a tent under that particular power line," he said.


The Scouts also should have insisted on conducting a background check of the contractor, Cambria said.


Scouting teachings dictate that tents not be erected under trees or power lines, a Jamboree spokesman said. And potential Scout leaders go through rigorous safety training before they join the organization, said Scout leader Kevin Rudden, 51, of Mendon, Mass.


"It's the most safety-conscious, risk-averse organization I've ever met in my life - there's a policy for everything," Rudden said. "That's why it's just surprising that this happened. I mean, it's just counterintuitive to all that you're trained. You can't explain it."


Fairrer would not speculate on whether the Scouts could have done something to prevent the electrocutions, citing the pending accident report.


"It was just an unusual freak accident that happened Monday," Fairrer said.


What could have prevented the heat illnesses is another question.


"You'd like to say the cool heads should have recognized the potential for heat-related illness, but it's so extraordinary - I suspect the president's security precautions really were the driver," Waltz said.


Indeed, White House security rules dictated that the Scouts go through lengthy security checks and be waiting inside the arena two hours before the president's arrival, Fairrer said.


"The White House security rules ... are certainly in place to make sure the president and his entourage are protected and we certainly respect that," she said. "But at some point, we have to say this just jeopardizes the health of the youth too much."


Nonetheless, Jamboree organizers should have known the weather was going to be hot during July in Virginia, said Robert Smith, president of an event planning and public relations firm outside Chicago. They could have struck a deal to have air-conditioned buses kept running for the Scouts.


Cambria said several other key pieces of equipment could have helped:


_Water misters and large, outdoor fans


_Personalized fans for the children


_Tarps to shield the waiting Scouts from the sun


Such suggestions will be considered for the Jamboree scheduled for 2010, Fairrer said.


While this year's Jamboree has been unusually problematic, past Jamborees have had their share of accidents. In 1997, a 16-year-old Boy Scout from Pennsylvania was killed at the Jamboree when an Army Humvee he was not supposed to be driving flipped over. Three passengers were hurt. And in 2001, lightning strikes caused minor injuries to two Scouts.


The 7,400 volunteers who work at the Jamboree fill out a journal after the event with suggestions on what worked well and what didn't, Fairrer said. The Scouting organization will take that information and use it to make improvements for the next Jamboree. On Thursday, every subcamp had an hour-long safety presentation, she said.


The Scouts have also had their share of successful responses to emergencies. Michael Schultz attended the 1985 Jamboree as a 12-year-old when the camp was hit with the remnants of a hurricane. Youngsters huddled under a tarp as the wind and rain picked up their tents and carried them 100 yards away to a gulley.


Jamboree organizers took charge of the situation, bringing in trucks to haul the Scouts' sleeping bags to dry cleaners. Each bag was returned to its proper owner before bedtime.


Schultz, 31, of Waltham, Mass., now works in public relations and often uses the event as an example of how to respond in a crisis situation.


"That one was handled brilliantly," he said.


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20/20 hindsight is always crystal clear.


It's bothersome that BSA is talking in terms of "not being ready to place blame". Unfortunately, you know that within a few days, the lawsuits will follow, and BSA will have to blame somebody.


Having said that...


If the president's security measures were compromising the safety of the Scouts (which we don't know was the case), then they simply should have told him to stay home. Not knowing what cooling remedies they had in place, it's very easy for the "experts" to say, "they should have done this or that". For all we know, maybe they did everything they could. All we know at this point is that they were left in the sun for hours waiting for the president to show up. The president's group obviously knew what the weather was like, since that was their reason for cancelling. Maybe they should have had the sense to say, "you know, we can't leave those boys sitting out in the sun that long waiting for us". Like I said, 20/20 hindsight.


In regards to the tent, I can't make any sense of how somebody would have been allowed to place a 20 foot metal pole within reach of power lines. You have to think somebody dropped the ball on that one.


You know, I don't know that a town of 35,000 would be all that surprised for these tragedies to occur given the conditions. Being Scouts doesn't make them immune to nature and quirks of judgement.


Obviously, some things to be learned from all this, and I hope BSA doesn't have to spend more time dodging lawyers than correcting the situation before the next event.



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Common. Cambria is an "EXPERT". Everything she says is Gospel, right? She's obviously got a great relationship already established with the BSA or some other large outdoor program.


Yeah, mistakes were made and the worst thing that could happen, did. Are we going to pack it in, or move on with a better awareness with more focus on planning and contigencies? Will changes be made? Guaranteed! Can you "Be Prepared" for everything? No. In the end, who's gonna be around and have to pick up the pieces? Us.


I want to know where the PR guys are to try to add something positive to the whole thing. I'm not saying, dust it under the rug. No one has stepped forward and accepted responsibility. (Yeah, Law Suit City). It's all about waiting until the investigations are complete. All I've seen and heard from the big media outlets is "Bash the Boy Scouts". There hasn't been anything in reply. Good or bad. They're just waiting for it to go away. We need damage control NOW.


Extensive training? I'll guarantee there's going to be something big added there.


As was mentioned in another thread, our District will also be putting on a big focus on safety and precautions, proper planning, etc. Will that fix it so it never happens again? Probably not, but hopefully we never have to cross this bridge again.

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It is sickening to hear all the scout-haters clucking their tongues. A professional tent rental company used poor judgement resulting in the deaths of four Scout leaders. The Secret Service forces boys to pour out their water bottles, then wait in the sun for 3 hours for a president that never shows up. But listen to these scout-haters and you'd think BSA was full of bumbling idiots endangering the lives of our boys. It's disgusting.

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Regarding heat related illness/injury --- Up here in the Northwest when it gets hot our bodies are not quite ready. At the summer camp that I have staffed at when it gets hot we preach about drinking plenty of water, water coolers go out to all activity sites and pitchers of ice water are at all meals. The old verbiage that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink applies to Boy Scouts too. If we don't have 3 or 4 boys (and staff) a day out of total population of 300+ showing some sort of heat distress I would be amazed. I think 300 of 40,000 sound like about the same percentage.

If this had not happen right after the death of the Scouters it would not be getting the play that it is.


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I just developed what I call the Jambo 2010 umbrella. It comes in 8 combinations of colors, depending on the event logo and that the price the participant is willing to pay. It has fringe that hangs down around the edges and a colored magnifying visor for better viewing of presidents from distances up to a mile. It has a personalized fan that blows a fine mist of water onto the participant. It can keep the person cool and out of the sun while waiting for the chief executive for up to 9 hours. It is made of an organic plastic with stealth technology that can pass through any check point and have the Scout on his way in seconds for hours of waiting. It has been field tested in desert heats up to 115 degrees. For an additional fee, it comes with speakers and a flat screen TV. It is the only umbrella that can be used and then eaten as a meal to cover the Scout policy of LNT. Some that have tried it say that it tastes good and is similar to chicken. Since production has been limited, the initial price is $6,000 per unit but with orders of over 20,000, a reduced price of $4500 can be had. It has been advertised in Backpacker and Fine Dining Magazines on news stands everywhere. For an additional fee, it comes with a small dessert packet and a side salad with low calorie dressing for those watching their weight.


I hope this helps.


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"Cambria said several other key pieces of equipment could have helped:


_Water misters and large, outdoor fans


_Personalized fans for the children


_Tarps to shield the waiting Scouts from the sun


Such suggestions will be considered for the Jamboree scheduled for 2010, Fairrer said."


Any scout who has his Weather MB knows that the true measure of humidity is the dew point. In Eastern VA, we had dew points above 80 degrees last week. A dew point above 70 degrees, and the humidity is said to be uncomfortable. Water misters will not work in those conditions. They only serve to dilute the sweat, and the surrounding air is already saturated with water vapor, so evaporative cooling of the skin will not take place. Fans blowing 97-102 degree air on a body at 98.6 will likewise do little for cooling purposes. Yes, this was an unusually hot and humid week, likely the worst of the year that we will see. In Virginia, we have summer heat, humidity, hurricanes and thunderstorms. That's the way it is. Planning an event 4 years out, it's impossible to predict if you will have good weather. What we don't need is BSA National taking advice from self-proclaimed "experts" who don't know what they are talking about. We have experts already in the organization...just ask.


Some of these tragedies could have been averted, like the tent fiasco. I'll admit I've never been to a Jambo, but why is a troop contingent renting a large "dining tent" from a local contractor? And if the contractor is being paid to erect it, why are there any scouts and scouters involved at all??? If dining tents are required, why aren't they provided in the site and ready to go when the troop gets there???


The Scouter who had the heart attack must have already had coronary artery disease. If he had not been at the Jambo, the clot would have busted loose somewhere else, like while cutting his grass or sitting in his La-Z-Boy.


In the safety business, we don't assign blame, but we do perform risk assessments, mishap investigations and root cause analyses. That's the way to learn what went wrong and why, so it doesn't happen again.


I'm also curious as to what "rigorous safety training" that scouter had before he was allowed to sign up??? I see a new mandatory training course in our future...G2SS. Perhaps my fellow OSH professionals on the forum and I can volunteer to help develop it?


The only solution is to move the Jambo site to a location known for good, temperate weather. San Diego, maybe?

(This message has been edited by scoutldr)

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Air conditioned buses for 40,000+..... come on lady get a life!


Often we are too quick to limit the fallout that inevitably follows poor decision making. Greg Shields was on the right track when he inferred that "some" leaders didn't follow the rules. But Greg's comments were quickly "corrected", and that's unfortunate. Talking to leaders in another sub-camp on Thursday, they found it unbelievable that the series of events leading up to the tragic accident could have happened at all! They clearly stated that it could not have happened in their subcamp. Scouting needs to come out and tell the world that policies and procedures are in place to prevent this sort of tragedy.


It's too bad that the world has already formed it's opinion and scouting has been damaged because of it.


As for the Presidents visit; kudos to the people who canceled him on Thursday (although I'm disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to see him and the show). Scouting should have very publicly fired the Health and Safety Officer over this one. Let's remember that this event was NOT planned for the early morning. This was planned for the latter part of what turned out to be, a very long, hot, and difficult day. What were these people thinking???????????? And how many of them were thinking it?????????

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Foto, sounds like your were/are at the Jamboree. Wish I could be there too.

"... they found it unbelievable that the series of events leading up to the tragic accident could have happened at all!"


What were the events leading up to the accident?


"Scouting should have very publicly fired the Health and Safety Officer over this one."


What did the Health and Safety Officer do or not do that should/should not have been done?

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WOW. I was so moved by the comments made on this subject that I felt compelled to join the site so I can put my two cents in. I visited my son and his troop in subcamp 2 on Wednesday. I had every intention to stay the day, see the activities and see the show that was to include the president. I made it from the parking lot to the subcamp, from the subcamp to the arena, past the arena straight back into the parking lot since I could not bear the wait in the 100+ temperatures. I am one of the out of shape visitors, although I made it thru the hike, it was not an easy task. I need to tell of some of the things I witnessed. We walked the same trail to the arena that the scouts took from the northeast area of the site. I watched as hundreds of healthy strong boys past me by (many asking me if I needed water). Some of the troops started out this journey in their class B shirts. So I do not understand the comments made about wearing one shirt, two shirts, whatever, the boys wore class A's, class B's and combinations there of...by the time the fire trucks were spraying water, many had NO shirts. As far as water...the large lit up sign outside the base said it all "DRINK WATER OR DIE". I kid you not. They took this very seriously, it was constantly drilled over the PA system all day. Water was everywhere, we never had to wait more than a minute or two to fill all our water bottles. At the arena, cold water bottles were there by the truck load...cases and cases being distributed to anyone, scout or visitor walking by. Army personel,volunteers and scouts were carrying cases down to the fields as quickly as they could unload them from the trucks. As I previously mentioned I planned to stay for the show, but did not. I went back to my car and my husband and two younger children stayed at the arena. When the announcement was made that there would be no show that evening, there of course was major disapprovement all around. Myself included saying how could they have those boys hike all that distance in those temperatures and sit and wait it the heat for hours and then cancel...I thought they really blew the call on that one....until 8:00 PM...when severe storms hit and all "heck" broke loose. Lots of thunder, lightning, winds and heavy rains...maybe they didn't blow the call after all. The tragedy of fallen leaders from Alaska was heartbreaking. It should never have happened.As for the poor placement of the tent, MANY large tents were errected under major power lines that ran over the sites. Not just this one. Limited space? Maybe. Will this jamboree teach tough lessons? Yes. Will they think of a few more relief items that can be used to help the scouts thru difficult tempertures? The ideas are already coming in! I have to say though, after visiting my first(and it won't be my last) jamboree how impressed I was at the mini-city set up for this event. I can only imagine the number of man hours it takes to plan and carry out such an event. I really think it is unfair to say they were unprepared. I think they did their best and their decisions were right on target. Thanks for lending your ear. YIS

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I doubt that all of the reporters on these stories were "scout-haters", really. The fact is that most news these days relies on "body counts", and if you're having an event that has a newsworthy body count, you can be sure that they're going to chase it. Bring in a few so-called experts to punch up one side of the story, and you've got yourself 30 seconds on the 10:00 news. If it had been the Girl Scouts, or Indian Guides, or anybody else, the story would have probably run the same way.

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Where did you here or read that the secret service made the scouts pour out their water bottles? I never saw that before.


I' sure that the event planner has had to find air-conditioned rooms and a meeting center for several thousand folks however, that's not quite the same as building a city for 40,000 people from nothing that lasts 10 days.

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stlscouter -


They were required to pour out water bottles at the security checkpoint. My understanding is that they would set off the detectors. My dad is there and told me that over the phone. So, it was the security measures put in place. Was that the Secret Service? Don't know if they handle checkpoints or not, but it was whoever is in charge of that aspect of security.

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